Keeping Our Children Safe in an Unsafe World
“A child has been reported missing.” As a parent, my heart naturally jumps and a sickening feeling overcomes my stomach every time I hear these words spoken on a news show. According to a statement from the United States Department of Justice, more than a quarter of a million children are abducted each year in the United States. Keeping our children safe in the unsafe world in which we live in today takes a tremendous combined effort between parents and caregivers, children, community members, schools, and local law enforcement agencies.
Statistical information about the number of children reported missing in the United States each year can be difficult to assess. The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC) based in Arlington, Virginia, states that this is due to the fact that missing children are classified under different categories: family abduction, endangered runaways, or non-family abductions. The NCMEC believes that the most accurate national estimates for the number of missing children are from studies conducted by the United States Department of Justice’s Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention. One study, published in 2002, states that in 1999, an estimated 797,500 children were reported missing. Of those, 58,200 were abducted by non-family members, 115,000 were the victims of the most serious, long-term non-family abductions referred to as “stereotypical kidnappings” and lastly, 203,900 children were the victims of family abductions.
What Can Parents Teach Their Children?
The most important thing that you can do as parents is to create a living environment and relationship with your children that maintains a healthy mode of communication. Establishing a home where your child will feel truly comfortable in talking about sensitive matters goes a long way. Teach children safety tips in a way that is calm and reassuring, and always avoid the discussion of scary details of what may happen to a child who does not follow safety guidelines. Also, be wary of teaching your children to be on the look-out for strangers, since children may not have the same understanding of who exactly is deemed a stranger. This idea may make little children believe that they should only be wary of individuals who have an outwardly unusual and/or messy appearance. Instead, teach your children to be aware of certain situations or actions.
“Children should be taught to trust their feelings, and if something or someplace does not feel right to them, then they should leave it immediately. Adults should also teach their children to be on the look-out for people who could help them out of a dangerous situation, for example, moms with kids, firefighters, store clerks, and security personnel in uniform,” says Marc Klaas, who founded the KlaasKids
Foundation in 1994, one year to the day of the abduction and murder of his twelve-year-old daughter Polly.
Organizations That Can Help
Amber Alert. Two words that our nation has heard often, is a system that was named after Amber Hagerman, a nine-year-old girl who was kidnapped and murdered in Arlington, Texas. According to the National Criminal Justice Reference Service (NCJRS), the Amber Alert system is a voluntary partnership between law enforcement and broadcasters to activate a state emergency notification system, in order to provide broadcasters with a description of a missing child, and of their suspected abductor’s automobile. This description is then displayed on electronic highway signs, and in some states, on the scrolling message part of electronic lottery machines. Currently, this alert system is used in 47 states.
However, there are distinct visible flaws to the Amber Alert system, since each state has its own guidelines as to how an alert is issued, how it is used, and the fact that certain criteria must be agreed upon prior to issuing an alert. Upon notification that a child is reported abducted, police must first confirm that an abduction has taken place. Second, law enforcement has to believe that a child is in danger of exposure to serious bodily harm and/or death. Lastly, an adequate amount of descriptive information must exist to believe that an immediate broadcast will help. Some state and local police departments have been quick to issue an Amber Alert, while other agencies, (as in the case of Carlie Brucia and the police department in Sarasota, Florida) have been much more conservative in their approach and did not issue an alert quickly.
The mission behind Beyond Missing, according to Marc Klaas, who is also the company’s president, is
to provide a comprehensive program where police and law enforcement around the country can create flyers of missing persons, and then distribute these flyers to other members and agencies of law enforcement via fax and e-mail. Families of missing children/persons also have the ability to log onto the site www.beyondmissing.com to create their own flyers and post them throughout their community. “The flyers are sent within a 200 mile radius from wherever a child is reported missing. Local media, convenience stores, bus stations all receive a copy of the created flyer and this program (currently contracted with Texas and California), is available in both English and Spanish,” states Mr. Klaas, who believes that the long-term goal is a comprehensive National Amber Alert Network.
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